Dunes International School is a CBSE curriculum school located in Mussafah, Abu Dhabi. It has a somewhat chequered background, having originally been established in 1988 prior to relocation to its current site in 2014 and the entry into a management agreement with Ryan International Group (involving a name change), which was subsequently cancelled at short notice in 2017.
The story so far...
Dunes International School (DIS) is located in the Shabia area of Mussafah, close to a number of international schools that serve this growing area.
The school has an interesting history. Dunes International is, we believe, the third incarnation of this CBSE curriculum school. Originally opened as the Indian Modern Science School, management was then taken over in 2014 by the Ryan International Group when the school relocated to its new site in Mussafah and was renamed Ryan Private School. In 2017, there was a commercial disagreement between the owner and the management company, resulting in Ryan International dissolving the arrangement. They continue to operate Ryan International School at Masdar City.
With such an unsettled past, it might be expected that the school, and particularly its staff, would be equally unsettled, but this is apparently not the case. The constant, certainly since 2016, has been Mr. Paramjit Bakshis Singh Ahluwalia, who has remained in his role as Principal throughout the recent changes and continues to lead the school.
According to the school's website, it mission is "to integrate the essential skills of learning in our students by embracing the changing trends in the instructional strategies. Academically, we believe in [an] inquiry-based approach to learning, considering the generation of students who learn to be critical thinkers, to be able to undertake research and think deeply about the essential questions that underpin their academic coursework".
Further, the school states on its website:
"We are a school that is both traditional and modern. Traditional in the values that we seek to instill in our students: kindness, courtesy and integrity are timeless qualities of character. Our focus on academic rigor and use of educational technology are constantly evolving and innovative. Our objective is to train our students to be capable of doing new things and not merely repeating the past".
This statement appears to be borne out by the most recent ADEK report of 2017, when DIS was rated Good, which noted that "The school is developing students’ innovation skills well. Specific lessons dedicated for activities and the school’s enrichment programme provide many opportunities for students to develop their gifts and talents. Students of all ages have developed innovative mathematical puzzles and science models. The robotic car is a stunning example of research and planning to illustrate built-in safety features".
DIS has a total of approximately 1,200 students, the largest proportion in the KG section, Grade 1 and Grade 2 sections. As is common in newer schools, the numbers of students decrease substantially though the middle and high school sections – with student numbers reducing from an average of approximately 60 per grade in the Primary and Middle school to half this number in grades 10, 11 and 12.
As would be anticipated, the majority of students are Indian (93%), with a small number of Pakistani (3%) and Bangladeshi students (2%), making up the bulk of the remaining nationalities. Teachers, who number some 100+, and teaching assistants (a further 30) are also overwhelmingly Indian, and seem relatively happy with their employment – staff turnover two years ago, when last inspected by ADEK, was 13%. This is well below the average for international schools of 20-22%, although possibly on the high side for an Indian curriculum school.
The teacher:student ratio of 1:10 in KG, and 1:13 in other grades is very much on the low side and should ensure individualised support for students. Approximately 30 students were identified with SEN requirements, whilst a significant 90 were deemed to be Gifted and Talented.
What about the curriculum?
DIS offers the CBSE curriculum with additional subjects including Hindi or French, ICT, Drama, Music, Art, and Physical Education, with the aim of offering students an education "built on the strong principles and framework of Indian education".
Using the English language medium, according to DIS, the curriculum is enhanced by mapping to international boards and learning programmes that strengthen academics and skill development. ICT is used by the teachers and students, with an inquiry-based, collaborative and problem solving approach. In common with all UAE schools, the Arabic language is taught and is compulsory for all, whilst Islamic studies is compulsory for Muslim students. UAE culture, heritage and cultural appreciation is an integral part of the curriculum.
In the KG, the focus is on developing cognitive and motor skills. Children receive individual attention as they are introduced to school life for the first time. The core subjects at KG are English, Mathematics, and Environmental Studies. In addition, Music, Art, Dance and Sports activities are an integral part of the curriculum. Students participate in fun-filled activities, including games, music, art and craft, story sessions, field trips, special weeks, assemblies and events.
Within the Primary section (Grades 1-5), with a focus on literacy and 21st century [read IT and innovation] skills, Dunes International School offers the core subjects of English, Mathematics, Environment Studies, Social Studies (from Grade 3 upwards), UAE Social Studies (From Grade 4 upwards), French or Hindi (French from Grade 4 upwards), Arabic, Islamic Studies or Moral Science, and Computer Science. In Grades 4 and 5, integration of Science and Technology, bringing Mathematics closer to life, and the introduction of integrated thematic approaches to teaching of Social Sciences, are some of the new elements of the curriculum.
In the Middle school section (from Grades 6 to 8), the focus is on Languages, with an emphasis on listening, speaking, reading and writing; Science and Technology, with an emphasis on inquiry-based learning and learning by doing through research and experiments; and Social Science, involving developing social skills rather than the mere acquisition of facts. Mathematics is taught with a problem-solving approach.
In addition to the core subjects of English, Mathematics, Science, Computer Science, Social Studies, UAE Social Studies, Islamic Studies or Moral Science, and French or Hindi, Arabic and further subjects, including Music, Art and Craft, Physical Education and Sports activities, are offered within the timetable to ensure holistic development.
The All India Secondary Examination, conducted by the Central Board of Secondary Education, New Delhi, is held at the end of Grade 10. Subjects offered include the core subjects of English, Mathematics, Science, Social Science, Computer Science, and optional languages include Hindi and French. Arabic is a compulsory subject in Grades 9 and 10 and a school based internal examination for Arabic is conducted in both the years, as is an Islamic Studies examination for Muslim students. Work Experience, Art Education and Physical Education classes as per CBSE requirements are also woven into the curriculum.
DIS has only recently offered Grade 12 in the last academic year with a small group of 29 students in its first cohort. Subjects taken by the students - clearly offered as Science and Commerce streams - included English, Maths, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Psychology, Computer Science, Economics, Business Studies, Accountancy, Entrepreneurship and Physical Education. The school has not published the results of these exams.
A school counsellor is available to provide university and career advice, and emotional support to students. In addition, DIS holds annual meetings, parent teacher meetings and career fairs, together with lectures from past or graduating students, with the aim of supporting senior students in determining their next steps after their completion of school.
In addition to the core and optional academic subjects, DIS is said to offer a wide range of Extra-curricular activities and clubs. There is a particular focus on Art, Craft, Music and Dance. The school has a dedicated music teacher and has won inter-school singing competitions, as well as organising its own band.
What about the Facilities?
Dunes International School is located in a modern building in Mussafah to which it relocated in 2014. As such, we understand that it has good facilities and resources. The building is spread over three floors in an E shape with outdoor sports space to the rear.
All classrooms have interactive white boards, and there are specialist facilities for Science (including individual labs for Biology, Physics and Chemistry) and Technology (including an ICT lab, and robotics), a large library with computers set up for research and individual study, an Art room, a Music room, a Dance studio and provision for Drama (including a large auditorium). The school provides facilities for a range of sports including Swimming, Basketball, Cricket, Soccer and Karate.
What about Academic Achievement?
As yet, DIS has not published details of its students' academic successes. According to ADEK, "in 2016, a small cohort of Grade 10 students achieved above international expectations in CBSE external examinations in English".
Clearly, significantly more data is now available at Dunes International School and we, at WhichSchoolAdvisor.com, would hope that the school will begin to share results - not only in order to celebrate the achievements of its students, but also to enable prospective students and their parents to judge how well the school is performing compared with others following the same curriculum.
What the inspectors say
Having originally been rated C6 (an improving school) in 2014-15, Dunes International School achieved a Good rating under the new inspection rating scheme in 2017. This is the level that ADEK wishes all schools to achieve.
In fact, DIS was rated Good across four of the key performance standards - Students' Achievement, Teaching and Assessment, and Curriculum, which invariably carry the same rating, together with Leadership and Management. The school was rated Very Good in regard to Students’ personal and social development, and their innovation skills, and The protection, care, guidance and support of students.
Inspectors noted that "The school has made good progress since its last inspection and has a good capacity to improve further. Students now make good progress in science through hands-on, practical experiments which are developing their investigative skills. Teaching is now good overall. Students respond well to the opportunities given to them to develop their communication and collaboration skills. Students who require additional help with their learning are supported effectively in lessons".
However, they also found that "Information and communications technology (ICT) has yet to be utilised fully in lessons. Children in KG benefit from an effective Arabic programme based on conversation and their real life experiences. Attainment in Arabic in Grades 6 to 9 is still not sufficiently focused on students’ acquisition of Arabic literacy. Senior leaders are involved in comprehensive monitoring of teaching although best practice is not always shared".
In terms of Student Achievement - the core performance standard that ultimately reflects on the strength of the school - ratings for Attainment and Progress were a mix of Acceptable and Good across all subjects and phases, though with significant subject variations. Science was a strength across the school, as was English in the Middle and High school sections. Maths was found to be Good in KG, but only Acceptable across the rest of the school. Arabic was at best Acceptable, and Weak in the Middle school section.
However, Learning Skills (including innovation, creativity, critical thinking, communication, problem-solving and collaboration) were found to be Good across the school. The inspection team commented that "The school’s focus on developing students’ learning skills prepares them well for further education and their future careers. Lessons and the timetabled activities period provide opportunities for students to develop their creativity and innovation skills".
Overall strengths of Dunes International School were found to be:
Key areas for improvement were found to be:
In common with many UAE schools, the process of collecting and analysing assessment data, which enables teachers to develop and adapt the curriculum and their teaching to individual student needs, is still a learning process for staff and leaders at DIS. In this they are not alone.
Dunes International School was set some clear targets for improvement in advance of its next inspection which was due to take place in the 2018-19 academic year (for which reports have not yet been published by ADEK). It is to be hoped that the improvements made in the previous inspection period have been built upon in the intervening time-frame. This is a school with a future focus, which seems to be trying to incorporate a more forward-looking approach to its teaching and curriculum, using innovation and an enquiry-based focus on learning. This can only be a positive in this increasingly fast-moving and technology-driven world where innovation and research will be at the core of future developments.
Fees at Dunes International School are mid-range for a CBSE curriculum school, starting at AED 12,000 in KG1, rising to AED 23,500 for Grades 11 and 12. Additional fees for books range from AED 400 in KG1 to AED 1,000 in Grade 12.
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